Book review: The New Collar Workforce

 

What are you going to do with your life?

 

It is a question that everyone is asked at one point in their life. Are you going to a university? Technical college? Military service?  They are all very reasonable places to go after you complete high school but some of them have different images of what they are when you ask people. Going into the military has the honor of serving the country and protecting those back home. Universities are seen as pillars of the highest level of learning you can attend and the resulting job placement from there would make any parent proud of their child. That leaves us to technical college. Technical colleges have most of the same tools as the universities with the difference being that they are geared more to trades that would involve a lot of hands on experience and training.

 

I personally have attended both a technical college for an associate degree in machine tool design (machinist/toolmaker) and a university for a BFA in industrial design. The learning process at both was very similar but the outward perception of what I was learning to do was very different. When I would tell people I am a machinist two things would happen,either they didn’t know what that was or they would see what I did as something that was dirty kind of job with limited prospects. If I told them I was an industrial designer they would perk up and ask a bunch of questions. Being at both types of learning institutes and working jobs where both machinist and designer or engineer exists you do get the sense that the perception of the latter job is still stuck way in the past. There is nothing wrong with thinking that the higher education job is the job that will get you further in life but there is whole lot being left on the table if that is all you think of.

 

The book “The New Collar Workforce” by Sarah Boisvert explains how those things that are left on the table are some of the more lucrative prospects for the next generation of manufacturing workers. Sarah draws her conclusions from her own diverse background in the manufacturing sector and her unique experience has given her an insight into what is coming down the road. The manufacturing of today is not the hot, dangerous environments of your grandfather’s factory. Today the factory floor is filled with advanced manufacturing processes and machines that require a very unique set of skills to use and maintain.

 

I personally have seen this change in just the past 10 years. One of the examples Sarah gives is that as she was talking to a colleague about acquiring a new 3D printer the question isn’t about the cost or return on investment, it was who is going to run it. Faced with new technology that requires special training and more important a particular skill set from an individual to make sure that machine is running at its optimum, is more of a barrier than the money to buy it. It rings very true that the perception of a lot of the newer manufacturing technologies as brilliant as they are they are still not just push a button and perfection comes out.

 

A lot of these technologies require special training and a person with training in analytical problem solving. As Sarah points out…

 

“Yes, manufacturers are looking for machinists. But these are not your grandparents’ or even you parents’ generations of workers. To be competitive in a a global market, manufacturers today need staff with digital fabrication skills deeply rooted in 21st-century STEM subjects”

This is not the same image that many think of when you talk about manufacturing. Most think “manufacturing is a dirty job conducted in a dangerous environment where workers are not required to think”. A lot of what is done in manufacturing today is in safe, clean and air condition building where the machines are tidy and include some aspect of automation services to watch over the machines. Sarah goes in depth in how this misconception has hampered industry in finding the right people with the right skills to fill the open positions.

 

Throughout the book Sarah gives examples of where she has been involved in the roll out of  new technology onto the manufacturing floor. A lot of the examples come from her time at Potomac Photonics where she has seen both the benefit and the bottleneck where finding the right personal to run the machines is far harder than acquiring the machine. Other examples showcase how though local Fab Labs, FabLabHubTwittercolleges or even makerspaces, local manufacturing can benefit from being involved and supporting these groups. The input of funds or equipment from the manufacture can in turn give the teaching institute the tools to foster the type of skills that people will need in this new collar workforce.

 

There is no doubt as  technology pushes forward the definition of jobs and what they mean to people will see very dramatic change and shift. What you use to need to know as a welder 50 years ago is just a small part of what a modern day welder knows now. The need for more diverse and out of the box thinking will be required more and more. The days of just pushing a button are coming to an end as the value of being able to think beyond what that button does and what does it mean to push the button.

 

The New Collar Workforce is a book that will take you through all these steps and more. If you are an employer trying to find a path through the new technologies Sarah gives you well laid out examples and were they are headed. If you are looking for a new chapter in your professional career you can see the possibilities of where your skills can fit or where you should look to acquire new ones. The references in the back also act a good starting place to look for more in depth information and to view some of the real world examples she gives. It’s not the end all but it is a good start to a conversation we should be having more. The conversation of what do we really need and not the perception of what is needed.

For more information check out some of these websites:

Buy the book –  www.amazon.com

Find a Fab Lab near you –  https://www.fablabs.io/ 

Fab Lab Hub – http://fablabhub.org/ 

American Makes – https://www.americamakes.us/

 

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